Among the many factors that are cited as influencing the rise of Nazism, beyond Adolf Hitler, are “German philosophy, romantic mysticism, anti-Semitism, the ‘stab in the back’ argument aimed at the Weimar Republic, German big business, the German economy in the wake of the Versailles treaty, the Prussian tradition, insidious occultism associated with ‘ariosophy,’ and the threat of Stalinist communism.”
Heidegger’s embrace of National Socialism is exceptional only for the importance of his thought and the depth of his commitment. But his failure to oppose Nazism is typical of the behavior of German philosophers in general. It is not well known, in part because German philosophy during the Nazi period has not often been studied, that German philosophy played an equivocal role at this time. It has been said that German philosophy failed in three different ways: in removing or even weakening the barriers against National Socialism, in creating an intellectual atmosphere propitious to it, and in apologizing for it. Certainly, German philosophers both collectively and individually did little to prevent the rise of Nazism.
When one reads the texts from this period, the widespread insensitivity among philosophers to the specific currents, such as anti-Semitism, that shortly led to National Socialism is striking. An example among many is Heidegger’s remark in a letter of 1926 to Jaspers, who was married to a Jewish woman, about the concern in the University of Marburg to appoint a non-Jew and if at all possible a German nationalist, a remark that typically evoked no protest from Jaspers.
Although Hitler only came to power in 1933, as early as the presidential elections in early 1932 a manifesto of personal support for Hitler was issued by six professors, including a philosopher, Carl August Enge, professor of law (Rechtsphilosophie ) in Jena and scientific director of the Nietzsche Archives in Jena. Between this initial manifesto and the election of the Reichstag in November 1933, there were no fewer than four other manifestos in which a progressively greater number of philosophers participated.
On the occasion of the vote for the Reichstag in November 1933, no fewer than a thousand professors, after an address by Heidegger, publicly acknowledged their support for Hitler and the National Socialist state, including Heidegger, N. Ach, O. F. Bollnow, O. Dittrich, K. Graf Dürckheim, H. Freyer, H.-G. Gadamer, A. Gehlen, J. E. Heyde, E. Jaensch, G. Krüger, F. Krueger, K. Leese, P. Lersch, H. Lipps, F. Lipsius, T. Litt, D. Mahnke, H. Noack, K. J. Obenauer, J. Ritter, H. Sauer, W. Schingnitz, H. Schneider, H. Schwarz, and W. Wirth.